What opened Watson's eyes about relationships built on Lions tours
Anthony Watson has explained how a post-tour 2017 trip to Las Vegas in the company of some newfound friends has enabled him to get out of his comfort zone and enjoy the 2021 Lions tour in South Africa as best he can. The 27-year-old back three England player started all three Test matches four years ago against the All Blacks and the lessons learned from that adventure in New Zealand have helped him to integrate much better on this occasion.
“I have socialised a bit more with people I otherwise wouldn’t have,” he explained. “Particularly because of what happened after the trip the last time in terms of going to Vegas with Tadhg (Furlong) and a few other guys I would never have imagined going on a trip with before.
“That opened my eyes to the relationships you can build on tours with people that you didn’t think you would and that has allowed me to grow closer to the group and be more in amongst everyone as opposed to the same usual people I would be otherwise with.
“My understanding of rugby has improved,” added Watson when asked to contrast how he was as a 2017 Lions player to the version that is now seeking a place in the starting side to face the Springboks this Saturday in Cape Town. “Without going into too much detail, my perception and appreciation of the sport have definitely increased.
“I love what I do, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I have enjoyed this trip a lot. I have enjoyed being around the boys on this trip a lot more than the past one because I am older. In terms of what has changed, apart from feeling like I understand the game a bit better, I feel like all round I have improved so I have just got to keep on that same trajectory and keep going.”
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Watson has started twice in the six matches so far, coming off the bench on another two occasions and he feels he is ready to feature in the Test series against the Springboks if he can manage to get himself into a selection conversation where the choices at Warren Gatland’s disposal are immense. “I feel like I’m ready. I have played a lot of rugby generally this year. If I played more I would have been happy but the positive for me is my body feels good. I was able to have that injection in my toe that I needed after the Japan game and so I feel great for it, I’m in a good place.
“That [intense competition] was always going to be the case. With Liam (Williams) and (Stuart) Hogg at the back, they are both unbelievable players, up there with the best in the world in their position. And the same with the wing when you have got Duhan (van der Merwe), Josh (Adams) and Louis (Rees-Zammit), all of them have got different skill sets but all of them are at the top of their game.
“Whichever way it goes the guys who aren’t playing will be supporting the guys who are playing and prepare them as best as they can but in terms of the group itself, the back three is a very, very tight group. We get along very well and we are trying to help each other. From that perspective it’s great.”
A veteran of the World Cup final loss to the Springboks with England and last week’s loss to South Africa A with the Lions, Watson has a good handle on the threat next Saturday’s opposition will pose. “The kicking game, the importance of the kicking and aerial game, it was huge in that World Cup final and we came off second best to them.
“They definitely dominated us in that area, got great momentum and field position from that area and that gave them the leg up that they needed. Similar to the South Africa A game as well as the World Cup final, the start was huge. We didn’t put ourselves in good positions in either of those two games and found ourselves trying to claw our way back into the game which is much more difficult against a team like South Africa. Those are the two points I see.”
"If Cowan-Dickie is left out of the 23 after that Stormers performance, it puts enormous pressure on George and Owens to deliver."
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